EAT, PRAY, AND CALL THE MECHANIC (FRENCHTOWN, NEW JERSEY)

October 13:

A few weeks back, I had read an article in the New York Times about the Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of “Eat, Pray, Love”.  While the focus of the article was her newest book, It spoke at some length about her overall literary career and talked a bit about her efforts to foster a creative community in her adopted town of Frenchtown, New Jersey.  We were getting ready to get back on the road; I had another gig in Lowell, Massachusetts coming up in less than two weeks, and we were itchy to be traveling again.  Ideally, I had wanted to find a place to camp somewhere in the Hudson Valley of New York.  Pete Seeger lives there, and it has long been my desire to meet the man, if I could somehow make it happen.  But camping places in and around Pete’s stomping grounds appeared to be either closed for the season, or incredibly expensive.  Pony found a place in northern New Jersey (near Jefferson Township) that sounded promising enough, so we booked ourselves to stay there for a week.  Meanwhile, I suggested we travel there by way of Frenchtown, and consider stopping there for lunch. 

Things often seem to take longer than anticipated, so it was sometime after 11am before we were able to get on the road and put Annapolis behind (for the time being, at least).  Pony had plotted a route on Lola (our GPS) that was intended to avoid tollways (we had found the tolls coming through Ohio and Pennsylvania fairly extortionist, and were trying to avoid such dings to our budget , if we could).  So it was a somewhat circuitous route, but the clouds cleared away as we drove, and the landscape became more beautiful with the onset of Autumn colours. 

We had just reached the southern edge of Frenchtown when a loud banging began beneath our feet; a dreadful sound we had first encountered some three weeks ago, in Iowa.  No doubt about it: the engine had thrown another spark plug.  I nursed Ceci (our RV) through Frenchtown, looking for someplace we could park that would not be totally disruptive to local traffic.  I finally found a space next to the “newly renovated” American Legion Hall, on 6th Street (half a block from the Frenchtown Market).  I took Rufus out for a walk while Pony called the roadside assistance service.

About a quarter block, and Rufus and I were being barked at from a Golden Retriever inside a lovely, Victorian style house.  The dog’s owner poked her head out the door and remarked on what a fine looking dog Rufus was.  Would you mind if he came in the back yard to play with Abby,” she asked.  So Rufus and I met Abby and her owner, Jill. 

“Abby is totally comfortable in her own backyard,” explained Jill, “but she’s a big coward anywhere else.”  As it was, the two dogs got along like old friends, while Jill and I chatted about this and that.  She told me that she and her husband worked out of their home, running a commercial real estate business, and I told her about our tour and gave her a card that she might look up the website.  She also pointed out to me the grave of her son in the backyard: he had been killed at age 16 in a car accident with a drunk driver.  It was a single somber moment in counterpoint to the revelry of the two dogs. 

I thanked Jill for her gracious hospitality, and Rufus and I went to join Pony and the kitties in the RV.  Pony told me that there was no one to effect repairs until the next day (this being a Sunday and all), and had called the local police to see if we would be okay camping out where we were for the night.  Eddie, the cop, was very helpful; telling us of places we could check out and assuring us that we were fine to stay for the night. 

WALLY IS IN NOO JOISEY – DID I GET THAT RIGHT?

In the mountains in a very beautiful part of New Jersey.  So far we’ve played in Frenchtown and Lake Hopatcong.  Tomorrow is a concert in the rotunda near the Jefferson Township Library (time still being negotiated).  This is a fair bit of sightseeing at the moment and there will be a trip in to NYC and a few excursions with photos.  We’ll tell you where the next official play date will be.

Two booked in Mass. next week but hoping there’ll be something else to tell you before then.  At the very least, details on those two will be up in the next couple of days.

WE MEET ANNAPOLIS PTII

Dean Rosenthal is smack dab in the middle of the Annapolis music scene.  Gordon first took Pony and me to see him on the October version of “First Sunday” (a tradition in Annapolis that runs from  May through October, whereby a portion of West Street is closed off to only pedestrian traffic, various merchants set up stalls, and live music is added into the scene).  Dean was playing in a group dubbed “The Basement Band” (I suspect one of various incarnations that feature various local musicians that Dean has known and played with over the years).  Their repertoire included a heavy dose of gems from Dylan and The Band, played with a winning combination of easy graceful and understated confidence. 

It was a few days later that we were invited to join new friends, Dave and Nancy, in the basement of The Ramshead, to hear “Three Piece Racket”; again, featuring Dean on guitar, along with Gary Wright on mandolins, and Tom Friedrich on amplified tambourine.  It was a tight trio.  Dean called the tunes, keeping the audience tuned in with a mix of blues, country, some more Dylan, and some late 60’s and early 70’s gems.  And there were a couple of other local musicians invited to join in on tunes, here and there. 

Again, it was a good, solid performance; the kind that comes from guys who have played together forever.  But I was particularly taken by Tom Friedrich and his amplified tambourine.  He balanced the tambourine on his left knee, bouncing his leg to provide the sort of steady back beat you would expect from a hi-hat symbol.  He played the head of the tambourine with a stiff brush, and used the thumb of his left hand (the one basically holding the tambourine in place) to vary the tone and pitch of the head.  It provided a very effective array of sounds; sort of a trap set all within a small tambourine. 

I got a chance to chat with Mr. Friedrich at the end of the gig about his use of the tambourine.  He told me he had learned the technique from Tom Amadei, of the Subdudes (a Colorado trio).  We had a good chat about an informal Annapolis/Colorado connection.  Meanwhile, both Tom Friedrich and Dean Rosenthal gave me some tips on some potential gigs in Annapolis that I could look into. 

Then there was swimming.

There are three things that tend to center me: playing guitar, meditation, and swimming.  Actually, I would say that all three share an element of meditation.  If I can manage all three in one day, I am positively shiny.  On Friday (October 11th), I enjoyed that blessed combination.  Another new friend clued me in to the Arundel Olympic Swim Center in Annapolis.  It is a beautiful, huge swimming pool, with several lanes set up just for swimming laps.  It costs $6 a day for residents of Arundel county; $8 for out-of-towners like myself.  I still figure it was a bargain.  I had not had a chance to swim since we had passed through my old hometown of Burlington (about three weeks ago), so I tried not to over do it, but enjoyed a solid 25 laps of swimming bliss.  Later that day, I had a chance to meditate, followed by playing a bit of guitar.  All this on top of enjoying a fantastic meal (and several fine wines) with our new friends, Dave and Nancy.  All in all, just about a perfect day. 

Gordon and Stacia had both been traveling for most of the week, leaving us to house sit and continue to work on the tour, website, and such. Often, I would sit in the navigator’s chair of the RV, (where there is a desk), with laptop computer, Kindle Fire , and my blue ring binder filled with my notes for various pending gigs.  I was doing just that on Thursday afternoon when four young deer wandered onto Gordon and Stacia’s front lawn.  Pony was reading back in the bedroom and I called her to come see (and bring her camera).  The only challenge was that Rufus also came to see what was going on, and it took everything to keep him from barking and scaring away our visitors.

  On Saturday, Gordon and Stacia returned from their respective travels, just in time to greet  a couple of new guests: Robert and Martha.  Robert is a research scientist, while Martha has worked for some thirty years as a sign-language translator.  I had a really interesting conversation with Martha about deaf culture.  She was telling me about the visual puns and the particular humor that is associated with sign language.  I realize it should have been an obvious thing, but I had not previously considered the development of various linguistic features in sign language that we all but take for granted in verbal speech.  There are puns and jokes, and a form of poetry, and lyricism.  Of course there would be.  All these things come from the core of one’s soul.  These things must be communicated, shared.  Still, it sort of set my imagination on fire, considering all of it. 

The only downside of the last week was several days of rain that severely restricted our puppy’s ability to run and play.  Consequently, he was getting very restless and a bit less well-behaved.  I had managed to line up a gig or two in Massachusetts.  We decided to head out with the intention to spend a week or so in a state park in northern New Jersey.  It was time to head out for our next adventure. 

WE MEET ANNAPOLIS

The gig at the Tree House Lounge had been a bit of a last minute addition to the tour, and a slight change of plans.  Our friend, Stacia, was planning a birthday party and very much wanted us to be part of the festivities.  The original plan (after the Ohio gigs) had been to make our way to New England via Pennsylvania and New York.  But truth be told, I had lost some valuable lead time in my effort to book gigs over the summer when we got caught up in preparing the house to sell, then in preparing to move out of the house and get the RV ready for traveling.  Bottom line: I could use some time to regroup.  I needed to scope out some new gig options (mostly through the “Gig Finder” feature on the Reverb Nation site).  I needed a little breathing space to get online and do research, followed by some phone calls.  Gordon and Stacia had graciously invited us to park the RV in their driveway and camp out there for a week or so. 

Annapolis is part of a broad region surrounding Washington, DC, where I had planned to do some playing in November ( my sister and two nieces live in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and the plan had been to play a few gigs up to Thanksgiving week, then spend Thanksgiving with Joleen and the girls).  That part of the plan is still in place, but with the slight alteration that we were going to have a chance to sort of scope out the area in advance, as it were. 

Annapolis is a beautiful town; home to the Naval Academy, fairly bursting with American history, and equally rich with friendly, welcoming folk.  Gordon is ex-Navy (he spent a good number of years working on a nuclear submarine) and grew up in Annapolis.  He bought the home he had mostly grown up in when his father passed away, and his son, Ben, oversaw some substantial fixing up to the place while Gordon and Stacia spent last year living and working in Australia. 

If I am going on a bit about these two friends of ours, it is because they are rather dear to Pony and me.  Gordon is a practicing Quaker, while Stacia is a Sufi dancer.  Stacia suffered a fall last January that broke her right foot in several places.  She was pretty upset about it, and more than a little worried as to whether the foot would heal enough to allow her to do the whirling dance that Sufi’s are famous for.  I told her that I would write her a piece of music that she would one day be able to dance to, expressing my total confidence that it would so come to pass.  The result is the guitar piece, “Spinning On A Blue Planet”, featured on the new Collage album.  In addition, I also composed a guitar piece dedicated to Gordon, called “Contemplation” (also featured on the Collage album). 

On top of everything else, Gordon and Stacia are avid dog fans, and they fairly fell in love with Rufus.  Rufus was given run of their house, as well as their spacious backyard.  He was in doggie heaven.  To his credit, Rufus actually was on some of his best behaviour.  Stacia’s birthday bash had a good couple of dozen people.  Not only did my doggie resist the temptation to snack on various plates of food lying about (only when someone actually offered him a morsel and fed it to him from their hand), but he wandered back and forth, in and out of the house, letting every pet him and “ooh”and “ah”all over him.  I admit that I can be biased, but I have to admit that even I was more than a little impressed with how well behaved he was. 

I spent a good part of the party playing guitar.  Our friend, Jeannie was also in town for the party, and had brought her flute (as usual).  She and I have played all manner of tunes and gigs together over the years, and getting back together to jam feels like no time has passed at all (Jeannie is featured on a few tunes on the new Collidoscope album, as well).  In addition, there was Glen (another friend of the birthday girl) who played some fine guitar. 

Stacia had ordered in a huge batch of barbecue beef, pulled pork, barbecue chicken, baked beans, and mac n’cheese.  Beer and wine flowed in abundance, and, all in all, it was a very successful bash. 

The birthday party was on Monday, the 30th of September.  The rest of the week fell into an easy blend of work and enjoying the company of our good friends.  I would spend a few hours each day on the internet, or making phone calls, followed by practicing and/or playing guitar.  Pony alternately worked on the websites, or worked on her novel (or helped Jeannie with her own novel; we are surrounded by many creative and multi-talented friends).  Stacia heard that I have lately developed a particular fondness for pies (especially various fruit pies), and one day came back from the Amish Market with three irresistible dishes: a cherry pie, a raspberry pie, and one simply referred to as a “Very Berry”pie.  Rufus wasn’t the only one feeling he’d died and gone to heaven. 

Meanwhile, we were meeting and making new friends, who then proceeded to help us discover some of the joys of Annapolis.  More of that in the next blog. 

TREE HOUSE LOUNGE

October 3rd  

Flint, Michigan.  Lorain, Ohio.  In both of these towns, we heard plenty about local folk trying to rebuild and revive a hurting town and a sputtering economy.  The Tree House Lounge, in Washington, DC, was a slightly different matter.  I had told our friends, Gordon and Stacia, that I had booked a gig there and was looking to drum up an audience for the show.  At first, they were a little hesitant, telling me that Northeast Florida had a reputation as something of a dicey neighbourhood. However, they consulted with a friend of theirs who lived not far from there, and part he told them it was a part of DC undergoing “regentrification”, and should be alright. 

The GPS had a little bit of challenge directing us there.  Actually, the challenge was mainly on our part, trying to find a place to park, at first.  As we circled around a nearby block to look again for closer parking, an old, dishevelled, black woman walked in front of our car and pointed a plastic, pink squirt gun at us.  It was obviously a plastic, pink squirt gun, so I wasn’t feeling particular threatened as such.  Still, Pony was startled by just the crazed demeanor of the woman. 

The Tree House Lounge is a smallish venue, currently restricted to the second floor of a somewhat narrow brownstone.  The place itself only serves drinks (“a liquid diet,” as Colin, the owner put it), but there is a pizza shop next door, and patrons of the Tree House can bring food in  from there. 

I was the first of three acts for that night.  There was a cover charge, and each act was being paid according to how many people they brought in (as per instructions from Colin, I told those coming out to hear me to make sure they identified themselves as my fans).  It was an unfortunate oversight that we forgot to bring along the video equipment, as I had about ten or so people come out to hear me play, and it was a fun night.  The Tree House has a lovely, good-sized sound system, and I felt very comfortable and on top of my game that night. 

The act following me was another singer/songwriter from Austin, also named Michael.  I believe he has some decent songs, but he did a disservice to his music by playing everything very loud.  It made it difficult, at best, to hear his lyrics.  One of my friends asked the bartender to adjust the volume on the sound system after just a couple of songs into Austin Mike’s set.  The bartender turned it down a bit, and Austin Mike just strummed and sang louder.  I know his last name, but I will avoid identifying him anymore than I have.  If, by chance, he should come across this blog (or it should come to his attention in some way), I would suggest that he needs to have the confidence as a songwriter and a performer to work with some variation in his volume.  As it was, he failed to bring in any of his own fans to the venue that night, and he didn’t win over any new ones, either. 

The third act was a jazz quartet, led by a bassist named Keith Whitby.  They were mighty fine.  In fact, one of my friends observed that those four musicians (including a drummer) played with less overall volume and more range of expression than Austin Mike (I’m jus’sayin’….).  We stuck around to catch most of that last act’s set.

I had a conversation with Colin (the owner) about his place, the neighbourhood, and such.  He has plans to expand into the lower floor of his place.  He has an architect who has drawn up all the necessary plans and such.  At this point, it’s all down to getting the necessary permits, and this is where Colin was remarking about the restaurant and bar scene in DC, as well as the real estate situation.  It seems that new bars and restaurants are popping up all over the city (I had actually heard an article on the public radio where a restaurant owner was complaining about the challenge of finding decent waitstaff, chefs, and such; apparently there is a high demand for all such positions).  In addition, several neighborhoods are going through a re-gentrification process at this time. “Even the crack houses two blocks away are selling for like $350,000,”Colin told me. 

Overall, it was a good gig, and I am booked to return there on the 14th of November.  I have some more friends who weren’t able to make it this time around (it was a bit of short notice), so I look forward to building a bigger crowd the next time.  And next time, we will definitely remember the video equipment. 

WHERE’S WALLY THIS TIME? OH, NEW JERSEY? WHY IS THAT?

On the way to New York.  Well actually, New Jersey.  To a park in the hills.  Found a lovely campsite in the mountains that’s less than 40 miles from NYC.  Looks great and there are trains nearby.  We’re going to have a cultural week with plans for playing in and around the area.  Playing in Central Park is on the agenda – just too good a photo opportunity to miss.  Keep watching

SWEET LORAIN

September 27

A truck is towing a boat on a north Ohio highway when it hits a pothole and a plastic jug flies out of the boat, bounces a half dozen times down the busy highway, and….   flies under our yellow car, lodging somewhere in one of the wheel wells. 

We pull the car off to the side of the road and look beneath, but cannot locate the jug.  We start back on the road to the gig, fingers crossed, wincing as we hear a faint bump/scrape somewhere beneath  the car (there is the counterpoint of a stream of curses from my wife that would burn the ears of a sailor).

On arriving at the Charleston Coffeehouse, in Lorain, and finding a parking space right in front of the place, the plastic jug drops out of wherever it had hitched a ride with us.  One edge is worn away from communing with the left front tire.  The car itself seems to have survived the trauma without any real damage (a huge relief, given our history of car repairs for the first few weeks of the tour). 

The Charleston Coffeehouse is a large, colourful, welcoming venue.  The town of Lorain sits on the south coast of Lake Erie, and the coffeehouse is in the downtown area, within walking distance of the lake (a healthy walk, mind you, but even so…). We recorded some video of the event.  It came out a bit on the dark side, but we look to see if we can post some of it on YouTube anyway (this has also renewed a conversation between Pony and me about possibly investing in a small bank of stage lights for such occasions). 

At the end of the gig, the barrista/manager (also named Michael) showed us through a back door of the coffeehouse.  The back opens onto a beautiful shared patio area; sort of a courtyard for a group of condominiums.  It is lush with plants and several large skylights that illuminate the space with much natural light.  Michael informed us that there are a variety of birds that also live in the space (parrots and parakeets, mostly),  although, since it was late at night, they were pretty much in sleep mode.  All in all, it was a very fun gig, and we are talking about returning again sometime next summer. 

The next day, we set out to leave as early in the morning as we could manage.  We wanted to make it to Annapolis  by the end of the day (about a 400 mile trip).  We managed to leave the Silver Springs campground sometime between 9:30 and 10:00am and had a fairly easy drive to Maryland, arriving at the home of our friends, Gordon and Stacia, sometime 5:30ish.